January 23, 2006 | Ask Gael

Is it Gilt or just plain brass?

        I have little tolerance for dinner as a cataclysmic life experience. But bad-boy chef Paul Liebrandt promised to soften his edge at Gilt in the freshly restored hallows of the departed Le Cirque 2000. Still, I’m skeptical as a dozen provocative little amuses seek to tickle our palates in prelude to his $92 prix fixe. Oysters and black truffle on a Beaufort-cheese tartlet with lemon bubbles (foam by any other name) is certainly less hostile than his infamous barbecued eel in chocolate. And Liebrandt can cook. Many bespangled tidbits we’re tasting in this shadowy wood-paneled room are good, and certainly amazing enough to keep me awake through three and a half hours of cuisinary aerobics. Roasted baby abalone with Nantucket scallops and oxtail gelée. Lushly elegant rib eye with surprisingly impressive texture for its sous vide cooking. Exquisite variations of lobster with a too-sweet distraction of black-currant oil. By the time we get to passion-fruit cloud with its drizzle of coconut-and-olive-oil cream and matcha-tea truffles, we’re aesthetically drained. Every dish has three sides and a garnish; every garnish has a garnish. The final assault is the $500 bill for four, actually modest, since my guest insists on taking the $400 alcohol tab. Still, gourmandlich Magellans must taste and decide. I just got an e-mail from a youngish financier tipping me off to Gilt, “the best new restaurant in the world.”

455 Madison Ave. at 50th St. 212 891 8100

Patina Restaurant Group